The latest round of mediation between the NBA, its owners, and the NBPA ended, after nearly eight and a half hours stretching into Sunday morning, the same way that every prior mediated session and talks have. There is still no deal. However, without directly referring to a proposed deal on the table as an ultimatum, NBA Commissioner David Stern did in fact issue one. A fact that was not lost on the union and its players.
Steve Novak of the San Antonio Spurs was one of the first player to react using the term ultimatum on twitter, “U gotta love an ultimatum! How does basketball ever even get to this point?” He was not the only player to express his disbelief in the owners’ proposal, Tony Allen of the Memphis Grizzlies also tweeted after the terms of the proposal were made public last night, “57 53 49 : wow.”
The proposal that is on the table for the players to accept by the close of business on Wednesday, which Stern set as the cut-off point when the deal would be removed and the owners would again revert to their previous stance that the players should receive 47 percent of basketball related income and that a flex cap (read: hard cap) be in place, inches slightly closer to what the players have been asking for but does so in a way in which the owners proposal of a 50/50 split of BRI is the more likely outcome. Under the previous collective bargaining agreement, the players received 57 percent of BRI. As Allen referenced in the above tweet, the union has come down from 57 percent to 53 percent, then 52.5 percent and now is faced with close to earning just 49 percent of BRI.
Under the current proposal, which is a band deal, the players could earn between 49 and 51 percent of BRI. However, union attorney Jeffery Kessler, who was representing the players at the talks with union president Billy Hunter under the weather, along with Derek Fisher scoffed at the proposal. Under it the players would receive 50 percent of BRI with the ability, if league revenue grows at a projected four percent annually or further “significant growth” Stern said, to earn 51 percent of basketball related income. If revenues were to remain stagnant or decrease the players would earn just 49 percent of BRI. The reason Kessler flatly rejected the proposal is because “the proposal that this is a robust deal at 51 is a fraud,” he stated. Under the deal the players could not expect to legitimately earn 51 percent and that it would take “the wildest, most unimaginable, favorable projections and we might squeeze out to 50.2.”
“They came in here with a prearranged plan to try to strong-arm the players,” Kessler added. “They knew today they were sticking to 50, essentially 50.2. They were going to make almost no movement on the system, and then they were going to say, ‘My way, or the 47 percent highway.”
During the mediation the NBPA issued a proposal of a 51/49 percent split of BRI in which one percent would go towards benefits for retired players helping them with heath care, insurance, and pensions. This proposal was never addressed by Stern and the owners.
Where the two sides could also not make headway was the issue of the luxury tax. The proposed deal on the table would fine each team over the tax limit on a one-for-one amount for every dollar over the tax a team spends. That is down from their previous offer of a $1.50 penalty for each dollar over the limit. The union wants to see a 50 cent tax on the first $10 million over the salary cap limit and then raise it to one dollar after that.
What the league is proposing would make it difficult, if not impossible, for championship caliber teams to retain certain players under their proposal. This would adversely effect teams such as the Los Angeles Lakers, Dallas Mavericks, Boston Celtics, Miami Heat, and Orlando Magic, and New York Knicks. In the case of Dallas, the reigning NBA champions, starting center Tyson Chandler spoke bluntly about this proposal earlier in the week as reported by the Dallas Morning News:
“With the collective bargaining agreement and some of the things that they’re trying to enforce, it would basically prohibit me from coming back,” Chandler told KESN-FM FM in Dallas. “It would take it out of my hands — and the organization’s — because it would almost be pretty much impossible for me to re-sign. I just think that can be the worst thing that can happen.”
“For years, the Lakers have been able to win championships and re-sign their players and keep them there so they can go out for another title,” Chandler said. “Now, to put that deal in place after we win ours, I don’t like it one bit.”
Mark Cuban, Jerry Buss, and James Dolan are probably none too thrilled with the potential ramifications of that scenario. But they are not the ones spearheading the move to limit the power of the players. However, teams just above the luxury limit will be given a reprieve under the owners’ proposal with their taxes cut in half.
Further, the two-sided disagreed on the length and money of the mid-level exception, which teams over the salary cap use to sign players. The players want an MLE that is worth $5 million for four years occurring every other year. The league’s proposal is $2.5 million for two years every other year.
Teams who are playing luxury taxes, the league insists, would also be exempt from any sign-and-trade deals like the one that sent LeBron James from Cleveland to Miami.
These hardline proposals from the league are the result of a few owners in small markets, which it was revealed this week are led by Michael Jordan. Hardline owners want to wrest the money-making power from the players and limit the ability of large market teams to willing spend beyond the cap to put together winning teams. The irony of Jordan leading the charge to clamp down on the players is that he is the man who embodied the move towards player control in the league. It was he that wanted more money as a player, it was he that the league bowed down to for a decade. During the 1990’s the NBA saw its highest ratings and ratings have almost come back full circle to those levels now. Yet, he is one of the owners strangling any potential growth the league could have seen this year. Strangling is a job for Latrell Sprewell, but he left the league long ago to feed his kids. Jordan’s position is understandable and his drive to constantly win and/or crush is opposition is well documented but a stricter set of regulations on the players and teams willing to spend is not in character with Jordan the player. He famously told Abe Pollin who owned the Washington Bullets and then the Wizards during the 1998 lockout, “If you can’t make a profit, you should sell your team.” How the tables have turned.
Now, the players have until Wednesday to decide whether to accept the deal, replete with the demands of the hardliners, that the league has proposed. It is not the deal that they want. It is nowhere close to what they will accept. Kessler stated as much after the mediation process ended and Stern singled out Kessler as the one who rejected the league’s offer.
This morning, Novak chimed in again on Twitter, “I was really hoping I would wake up and the owners were gonna say jk!U guys have already given us 200M a year! But no,I guess they want more.” Novak, a trillionaire in his own right, expresses the sentiment of just about every NBA player. They want to play but they do not want to kowtow to the owners demands. Now there are rumblings that a move to decertify the union are more than underway.
Union decertification, a step the NFLPA took early on during their lockout, requires 30 percent of players, about 130, to sign off on the idea. From there it would be another 60 days before a vote would take place for or against decertification. Boston Celtics’ forward Paul Pierce has reportedly taken the lead to decertify the union with many other players, including Deron Williams who tweeted, “I’ve been ready to sign a decertification petition since July? Can’t believe we are just now going this route! SMH,” and agents supporting the move. If the union is disbanded, which would require a favorable vote from at least 50 percent of the players, the players could then file an antitrust lawsuit against the league. A move to decertify could also give the players more leverage in the negotiations with the owners but it is uncertain just how anything will play out at this point.
Wednesday means nothing. It is just an arbitrary day that Stern chose before the league reverts its position back to what it was. It is merely a talking point for the media. The players have already rejected it. The owners have not changed their stance. They have not moved beyond the 50/50 split to meet the players. All this is, as it has been all along is a public relations war of attrition. There can be no winner in this lockout, yet that is what each side is angling for. Not even a Pyrrhic victory is attainable at this point. At the very least the lockout will grow uglier as it drags on. Small pieces of false hope are continually leaked from the meetings between the two sides. It is unclear why people believe them still. There is no hope. This is not even a tug of war. This is two sides hunkered down in their trenches prepared for a protracted engagement. It would be nice to have an NBA season this year, but at this point it does not look likely. Both sides know that and neither is willing to move with the owners more than willing to wait until the players surrender to their demands and because of that everyone has already lost.